Duck Fat in a Roasted Red Pepper and Cheese Sandwich?

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Ok, I know this isn’t the most exciting notion of a sandwich, but scroll down and see the pics of this creation and you’ll at least wonder if it tastes as good as it looks.

Are you back?

Ok, give me credit- I creatively reused -instead of wasted-that plethora of duck fat that came from my duckling last week (scroll down to read my post, To Roast a Duckling).

Well, I don’t deserve a whole lot of credit. It really wasn’t my notion of ‘reusing’ that spurred me into this frenzy of finding dishes I could cook using it; it was more of my gourmet-obsessed mind to create dishes that look like they’ve come straight out of a (fancy) restaurant. I read about how all the best chefs in the world tout the incredible flavor that drips from this bird. I want to be like them, in my own kitchen (and without all the stress). Besides, did I forget to mention that Julia Child told me (not directly, of course) to use this fat, too?

You might be thinking that this fat isn’t very healthy, comparing its thick texture when cold to hydrogenated oils, hardened vegetable oils used to line your baking pan, or even lard, but duck fat doesn’t fall anywhere near those oils in comparison. In categories of taste, versatility and healthiness, it beats out all of them.

I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, so I can’t give you clinical study results or medical advice, but I can suggest you read more about what the experts have to say about it. There is a long, but particularly interesting article about saturated fats by Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon in the link below. They mention duck fat by name in their reference to how the French have a ‘lower rate of coronary heart disease than many other western countries’. http://www.health-report.co.uk/saturated_fats_health_benefits.htm

I also really love a book called Real Food by author Nina Planck. The information she provides in her book really helped me to release my fear of eating butter, cheese, whole milk and animal fats (halal only, of course). In fact, she provides solid and clear arguments about why you shouldn’t choose otherwise. Foods that are processed, chemically altered, genetically modified, unnaturally preserved, and even some that are pasteurized really come into question in her book. I suggest anyone interested in getting healthy or responsible for feeding and raising young children should read this book cover to cover.
http://www.ninaplanck.com/index.php?page=real_food_book

Ok, so I got off topic for a minute- but found a great opportunity to share one of my favorite authors with you….

Back to the roasted peppers.

I had an enormous bag of ‘Mysteriously Sweet Red Peppers’ from Mexico- yes, that was on the label- that I had to do something with. They were nice enough to stay firm in my refrigerator’s crisper until I could figure out what I wanted to do with them for a week or two.

I decided on roasted vegetables- an easy dish because all you have to do is spend a few minutes to loosely chop your items, throw on some salt, a bit of sugar, any seasoning you like and add some fat. Put them in an oven-safe dish and throw them in the oven at 350-375 degrees and wait for your nose to tell you they’re done, not burnt. Mine took about 40-45 minutes to get really nice and brown.

In this particular dish, I added red onions and whole, peeled garlic cloves to add flavor. I used about 4 TB. of the cold duck fat, but a great alternative is extra virgin olive oil. You could add eggplant or zucchini- any type of vegetable with a similar cooking time. Carrots or potatotes would need longer to cook unless they are blanched, so don’t use them unless they are.

When your dish is done, serve with French, Italian or pita bread and dip your peppers into them. You could also serve as a side dish to chicken, or top a pasta dish that needs a bit of jazzing up.

Copyright © 2009 My Halal Kitchen

Copyright © 2009 My Halal Kitchen

One thing I must say is that this dish is even better the second day when the flavors have married.

That’s where this sandwich comes in.

Copyright 2009 My Halal Kitchen

Copyright 2009 My Halal Kitchen

I didn’t want to eat it in the same way the next day, so I got out a sandwich bun and toasted it. Meanwhile, I warmed up my roasted peppers in the microwave with a slice of Tillamook swiss cheese on top. When everything was ready, I ate it with pure delight, realizing I couldn’t have gone out and had a better sandwich elsewhere.

It’s not only the gratification of making your own food, without difficulty or waste, but the gratification of knowing that home really is the best place in the world to eat, making a mini meal like this worth the effort.

So, are you convinced yet? Make this sandwich yourself- or just the peppers as an appetizer with bread- and you’ll become a sort of taste believer.

And, umm, you don’t really have to use duck fat- unless of course you roast a duckling, too.

Brunch is Served

This site has been officially moved to a new domain, http://www.myhalalkitchen.com. Please visit there to see what’s cooking!

Copyright My Halal Kitchen 2009

Copyright My Halal Kitchen 2009

Every weekend morning I have the same dilemma- make a quick and usual breakfast, or make it an occasion by serving special foods that are timely to prepare but sure to please.

The need-to-please disease I have tells me that small breakfasts should induce guilt. But what if I could serve a sizeable breakfast without all the struggle and extra time in the morning? I didn’t want to just put any old leftovers together- that would be a bit too obvious….

Luckily my husband isn’t a picky guy and doesn’t snub food the same way I would if I didn’t like it, which actually made me want to do a nice thing- not take up too much time in the kitchen (which throws off our entire schedule entirely), without skimping on the food, either.

I decided to serve up eggs baked in ramekins, a savory pastry filled with spinach and feta cheese, a mixed salad, and sliced grapefruit. Not too fancy, but just enough to please, I hoped.

I prepared the baked eggs or ‘Oeufs en Cocotte‘, according to the base of a recipe I saw on a Julia Child French Chef episode. I changed some things to make each dish of two eggs baked in a ramekin then set in hot water to our own liking: Mine was mixed with leftover homemade buttermilk dressing and on my husband’s I poured a simple, plain leftover tomato sauce (see details below). After about fifteen minutes of baking in the oven, they were done. In the meantime, I was able to set the table and prepare the next dishes.

The savory pastry is a favorite in our home, mainly because the smell of baked phyllo puts me in a wonderful mood. Based on a combination of a recipe for Turkish borek from my dearest friend, Inci, and a Greek recipe for spanakopita handed down loosely to me from my cousin’s Yaya (grandmother), I have finally found a recipe that works for us. This one was prepared yesterday, but we really couldn’t finish it last night. It was too hot to eat and this is one dish where patience allows you to enjoy it more. The cheese has time to set and the dough is not as flimsy when it’s cooled. Today three pieces were reheated in the microwave for about two minutes and resulted in a perfect, warm taste. The cheese was set and the spinach had time to mingle with it, just enough time to complement each other nicely (recipe below).

The salad was super easy. In my conscious effort to eat up the largest carton of mixed organic greens possibly for sale at Costco, I decided now was a perfect time to eat it up- and give my husband an excuse to eat something green. Just throw the greens in a large bowl, top with sliced tomatoes and drizzle the mix with olive oil, a pinch of salt and dried parsley flakes. Voila! It’s done.

I almost forgot to mention the proud addition I just had to put on the table- a small bowl of my homemade crème fraiche, which I had been experimenting with all week. Until I get it perfect, I suggest you just buy the best one on the market today: the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company’s Crème Fraiche, sold at Trader Joe’s stores or online at: http://butterandcheese.net/cremeFraiche.html

The last addition was the plate of peeled and sliced grapefruit, a great way to end the meal and clean the palate after all the dairy at the table. The important thing to remember about grapefruit is that if it’s peeled properly, you won’t taste any bitterness; instead it will taste sweet and refreshing. It’s a bit of work, but don’t have it any other way.

Brunch was prepared and served today within a half an hour. It was delicious, healthy and very pleasing to both of us. There were no excuses left for today’s schedule to go awry. Uh oh, what have I started?

Please see recipe information for Buttermilk Dressing, Eggs Baked in Ramekins (Oeufs en Cocotte), and Savory Spinach Pastry:

Buttermilk Dressing (by Tierra Miguel Farm, which I found in the book Slow Food Nation’s Come to the Table: The Slow Food Way of Living, p. 118)

Ingredients:
2 C buttermilk
1 whole hard-boiled egg
¾ cup olive oil
10 sprigs parsley
5 sprigs celery leaves (optional)
2 cloves garlic
4 scallions, green and white parts chopped
1 handful of any fresh green herbs on hand, such as sorrel, nettle, watercress, or cilantro
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Method:
Mix buttermilk, egg, oil, parsley, celery leaves, garlic, scallions, and herbs in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 6 to 8 servings of dressed salad.

Resource:
Heron, Katrina, Ed. with a foreword by Alice Waters. Slow Food Nation’s Come to the Table: The Slow Food Way of Living. New York: Rodale Books, 2008.

Eggs Baked in Ramekins (Oeufs en Cocotte) can be found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Fortieth Anniversary Edition, Volume One, pages 123-124. It was written by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck. New York, Alfred A. Knopf. 2001.

Savory Spinach Pastry
You will need:
One package of phyllo dough
1lb. bag of frozen spinach
1 lb. feta cheese
2 eggs
approximately ½ cup each of olive oil and cold milk, mixed together in a cup
large rectangular pyrex dish
black seeds or sesame seeds to taste

Buy one package of phyllo dough typically used to prepare baklava. When the dough is cold, but not frozen, open it up to its full length. Lay the dough down so that it looks rectangular. With kitchen shears or scissors, cut the dough in half vertically. Reserve half in the fridge to keep cold and keep the other half out to prepare on your counter.

Using a pastry brush, ‘paint’ the bottom of your pyrex dish with a mixture of ½ cup olive oil and ½ cup milk (this should be in a cup next to you as you work). Lay a sheet of phyllo dough on top of it, then continue to paint each sheet one by one until you have finished this half of the dough.

Mix the feta cheese, eggs and frozen spinach in a bowl until well mixed. Pour on top of the phyllo dough you have painted in the pyrex dish. Pat the mixture down so it lies flat.

Bring out the cold dough from your fridge and continue to pain each layer individually until you are finished. Paint the very last layer generously and then add either sesame seeds or black seeds, but not both.

Bake in a 375 degrees oven for approximately 35-45 minutes, depending on your oven. Allow to cool before eating.

*Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are entirely based on my own personal tastes, which may obviously be different for others who try the same product(s). The reviewer also declares that she has not received any monetary or non-monetary compensation from the restaurant or food product company for writing this review.

Copyright © 2009 My Halal Kitchen. All rights reserved. The information contained in this blog may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of My Halal Kitchen.

Keeping Warm, French Style

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This winter, I’ve snuggled up to more than my fair share of Julia Child cookbooks and DVDs of her cooking shows, “The French Chef”. So far I’ve seen countless hours of her slapping dough around to make croissants and French bread, demonstrating brutally tedious sauce-making techniques and offering 1960’s style video of her own shopping tours around Paris and the south of France. Nevertheless, I’m addicted to learning from this woman.

As a result, for the first time I’ve made homemade French Onion Soup, following Julia’s recipe verbatim. It turned out perfectly. Even my husband was “warmed” up to the idea of eating enormous amounts of onions and butter and cheese in this hearty dish. He even warmed up to the idea of learning a little something from Julia. I think he’s enjoying himself, ever so slightly, because Julia was a practical woman and a wildly demonstrative teacher who made it easy for us to understand and learn from- something all teachers should be, in my opinion.

One thing I’ve learned from reading other books and blogs about French culture, cooking techniques, style and form is that the French, particularly Parisians, really love to warm themselves up with a hot bowl of soup during the chilly winter months. Check out David Lebovitz’s blog about living in Paris and his article about celery root soup at: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2008/12/celery_root_soup.html

Here’s a quicker version of French Onion Soup than in Julia Child’s book I used (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Fortieth Edition, Vol. 1 by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, p. 43-45). It’s Emerille Lagasse’s recipe found on the Food Network website:
http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/french-onion-soup-recipe/index.html

Substitute ½ cup red grape juice for the sherry and remember to use only your own homemade chicken and veal stock, made from dhabiha halal animals. If you don’t have that, use a halal canned or carton broth (let me know if you see that in any stores), or a can or carton of kosher stock or broth.

You can also use beef stock instead of chicken or veal stock but the taste will be a bit more “meaty”. And you can also just use one type of stock (i.e. only chicken as opposed to the combination), just make sure the stock is dark. Don’t make this dish if you will only be able to use water- it just isn’t worth sacrifice in taste.

Bon Appetit! Let me know how your soup turns out…

Yvonne